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How to Choose a Major to List on Your College Applications

One of the best ways to strengthen your college applications is to pick a major that you have the most evidence to support and then "back it up."

What I mean by that is that students who choose majors that support their academic and extracurricular activities present themselves in the best light. Because the vast majority of colleges consider a student's major choice in the admissions process, being thoughtful about what you select can be a difference maker.

Before choosing a major, I encourage students to look at their high school transcript first. When I look at a student's transcript, I can often predict their major choice just by how rigorous their classes are in certain subjects and how high their grades are.
Here are three questions students should ask themselves that can help them predict their major:
1. Which subjects do I take at a more advanced level or even the highest level offered at the high school (like an honors or AP-level class)?
2. What classes are my highest grades in?
3. What classes do I like the most, year after year?

I just did this with my own daughter who is a rising high school senior. Her most advanced coursework leans toward Latin, history, and English. Her highest grades have been in Latin. And while she loves to write, she finds the ancient world the most fascinating. When she asked if she should take Latin 5 or AP Latin for senior year, I recommended AP Latin since it was the highest level class she could take in this subject matter. For this reason, she will probably list Classics or Classical Studies as her major choice on her applications.
Next, consider standardized test scores. While not every student finds that these tests reflect their true ability, the scores can give us clues to a major choice and provide further evidence to back up the major. For example, a student who tends to do better on the Math section of the SAT and the Math and Science sections of the ACT might lean toward a STEM field. A student who gets 5's on the AP US History and AP World History exams might want to consider a history major. While test-optional policies are very common these days, colleges still love to see high test scores. And test-blind colleges like the University of California do not consider SAT and ACT scores, but they will consider AP scores in the evaluation process for admission. Students should be smart about what scores they report to the colleges on their list!
Finally, draft a basic list of all of your extracurricular activities, which includes clubs, jobs, internships, community service, and any other experience you do that is a productive use of your time. This is a good step to do in advance of filling out applications. By listing the activities and seeing what academic leanings come through, students can start to appreciate the additional evidence for their major choice. 
I just met with a student this week who is considering computer science or political science as their major choice. When we ran through their activities list, we saw twice as many political science-focused activities than computer science activities. I mentioned to the student that there are liberal arts programs within universities and plenty of small liberal arts colleges that offer both of these majors and easily allow students to double major. However, when listing major choices on the application, I recommended that the student list political science first and computer science second because there was more evidence to back up a political science major.
There are some colleges that don't pay attention to the major choice in the admissions process. The Ohio State University admits students to the university as a whole first before considering which major or program. However, most colleges, especially the more selective ones, pay more attention to the major choice than students think. 

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Your application is like building a case for admission. You want your application to support your major choice. The classes you excel in, the classes you take at the highest level, and the classes you love are powerful predictors of your major choice. And how you spend your time outside of class can be even more revealing about which major you should list on your applications. Colleges will give some basic requirements for admission, but they rarely will break down what they want for each major choice even though they have an internal list they use. Choose your major wisely and "back it up" with as much evidence as you can for the best results in the admissions process.